Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Today's worry

I'm worried. There seems to be a disturbing trend in this Presbytery of young pastors leaving the ministry. At least half a dozen pastors in their twenties and thirties seem to have given up on parish ministry in the last 18 months or so. One or more of the following factors were involved in each case:

1. It was their first ordained call.
2. They went into a "vulnerable" position--i.e. the church's ability to pay a full time pastor or a full time associate was dicey when they arrived and became impossible within a few years.
3. Their spouse's job makes relocation impossible or extremely difficult.
4. Their congregation expected these newly minted pastors to turn around a decline of several decades.

When something becomes a trend, it seems like we need to look at what's going wrong. What can we do about the fact that new pastors are the most likely to get tossed unprepared into small, struggling churches and that our call system is stacked against folks who can't relocate? We are losing gifted people.


Quotidian Grace said...

It's a real concern everywhere. And you're right that it shows a weakness in our call system.

Small, declining churches are not a good place for a first-time pastor to start. There's no opportunity for mentoring and it's unrealistic to expect someone with NO experience in the field to turn the situation around.

In business you would look for someone with proven experience rescuing and renewing a company in trouble. But maybe we don't have very many of those people in ministry today to draw from?

Sue said...

I think that sadly, the church is often guilty of age-ism. This is seen in the call system (or in the UC Canada, settlement) when young pastors are sent to the situations you named.

There are unrealistic expectations placed upon a young pastor that would never be assumed in someone more experienced. For example, there's this wierd assumption that young people attract each other like magnets. In other words, congregations often seem to think that if a young-ish person is in their pulpit, their pews will be full of young people the first week. Ummmmm, nope. It doesn't work that way, so the congregation decides Young Pastor must be screwing things up because his/her magnetic power didn't work.

Sigh....wish I knew how to fix it all.

Rev Dr Mom said...

I think this is a problem in many denominations. Used to be (in the Episcopal Church) that all newly ordained clergy would be curates for a couple of years to gain experience. Now fewer churches can afford more than one priest, so newly ordained clergy are being shunted off into risky places.

Although I'm not young, I am newly ordained. Lucky for me, my bishop won't allow newly ordained clergy to take positions as vicars or priests--in-charge of small struggling parishes.

susan said...

It's not just the newly ordained nor is it the call system. I'm in my 14th year of ordained ministry in the UMC, and I'm just about burnt out. 65% of the pastors in our judicatory are on anti-depressants. The real issue is the disparity between the vision we've been given of our call to ministry and the reality of it in Christendom-era churches who want to hang on to an old paradigm of low expectations of laity and high demands of clergy. It's not the layfolks' fault. There are profound systemic issues at work all the way around. I'm not trying to be discouraging. We believe in a God who is greater than all of this. May God's purpose and promise give us hope to find our way through.

Lorna said...

This is a good post.

I'm pretty fed up with our system too right now, but I need to rant elsewhere I think.

I believe it's time to give real mentoring and support - but I wonder if those who are left actually can do it.

moan moan moan. sorry. You've caught me at a very bad moment! I wonder if it's worth it at all right now.

reverendmother said...

It's all *very much* about economics, in my opinion and experience (with friends and colleagues I know).

[Painting with extremely broad strokes here] Large/urban/suburban/stable congregations can afford to pay a pastor better than small/rural/struggling ones. The former has a staff of colleagues and mentors/support nearby, in addition to having the larger paycheck--and as much as we want to romanticize the ministry, it is still a job, and being paid enough so that money is not a constant source of stress, helps. The latter, on the other hand, is out there on their own, without a lot of support, and struggling to make ends meet, in what is in many ways a more challenging ministry situation. And the cycle only perpetuates itself until you have a "rich churches get richer, poor churches get poorer" scenario.

I know there are denominations in other countries that have salary guidelines that take these things into more account--how many people is the minister's salary going to support, what is the nature of the particular call (ministers at troubled churches should be eligible for combat pay!), etc. I wish I knew more about that.

But in our denomination it's all about the 'market' and years of experience. My head of staff makes almost twice as much as I do. In a purely market-driven system this makes sense--she's the "boss" and she's been in ministry for 25 years, compared to my 2. (She also works *all* *the* *time.*) On the other hand, she bought her house 20 years ago, way before the current housing bubble, and has no kids at home. By contrast, I am soon to have 2 kids to support, and we bought a house at a time that was, shall we say, less than ideal. Not to mention the fact that we are both supposed to be on the same 'level' theologically--we are both Ministers of the Word and Sacrament--so what's up with the huge discrepancy? This is just a microcosm of a larger issue.

(I have to qualify this by saying that I am basically paid adequately and that my salary plus my husband's provides for our essential needs, though with very little if any to spare.)

Lorna said...

rev mother I'm so glad to read your honest post - though it is disturbing.

be blessed

LutheranChik said...

This spring I was at a training on communication in ministry where part of the day was spent talking about dealing with the dynamics of struggling/fractious/"anxious" churches. Our facilitator -- a veteran pastor who came to the ministry by way of a first career teaching college-level public relations and journalism -- said that he thinks that putting newly minted pastors fresh out of sem into "critical list" congregations is absolutely insane. "Their first calls should be to healthy congregations that basically run themselves no matter who the pastor is! The grizzled veterans should be going to problem congregations!"

Songbird said...

That's exactly what my conference minister talked me into doing, holding back some significant details about the call. Now three years have gone by and they're no better able to afford a full-time package than they were then. So many good things have happened, but I fear all that I will be remembered for is their slide into part-time ministry after my departure (or worse that they end up asking me to leave as a fiscal necessity). The secure associate position in the tall-steeple church one town over went to a personal friend of the conference minister's. Our conference ministers may not have placement authority, but my they have the power to manipulate both candidates and search committees. I've probably learned more than I would have in the other job about what it means to be The Church, and I don't regret being where I've been, but I also know I can't stay and that is causing me pain at the moment.

cheesehead said...

I know for a fact, quite frankly, that my PNC was *thrilled* to have a candidate (finally) who would not depend solely on the pastor's salary to support herself or a family.

The first two candidates they extended the call to were young married males whose wives did not work for pay, because they were raising young children at the time. When both these young men took a serious look at what it costs to live here, they had to decline the call.

My spouse makes four times what I make--when he is working. (He's a consultant.) That is how I was able to take a small church, with the small salary.

BUT--and this is a big but--I live in the smallest house, drive the plainest car, and am one of the few people in this community who does not have a second home somewhere else to go to on weekends, in this congregation. Clearly, if the desire were there, this church could support a pastor's family. They choose not to. They chose to call a pastor who could (disaster notwithstanding) do it for free if she had to. And I chose to accept that call. So why am I bitching? Because the next pastor may not be in that position, and the whole system is cockeyed if you ask me!

Apostle John said...

Great points!

Dean said...

It is very easy, I think, to get fixated on the symptoms. Lack of experience, supervision, support, finance, flaws in the process of call and/or formation. And the institution seems to be very good at shuffling the deck chairs around to fix things without looking at the root cause.

I think Susan (above) started to head in the direction... the problem perhaps is that we have an implicit understanding of forms of leadership in the church - we train people into these forms with these implicit understandings. Why do we train (and institutionalise) people the way we do? For what ends or expectations?

In the end our forms of leadership are institutionalised and we train people to meet the needs/requirements of the institution - but not of the church.

The way people think, live, and work is different. The church is going through the pains of transition - and as such it's institution has to change to be useful for the church to be in mission and minister to the community.

The fact is that people who are employed by the intitution (as clergy for the most part) are going to experience some significant pain during this period. Just like people who worked for industries (such as coal mines in the UK and automobile manufacturing plants in the US) that have been shut down by the economic rationalists

The bits of the institution that doesn't work will disappear, new bits will be created. A question that comes to mind how does the church help people through this process - which has to happen?

I don't want to sound negative, but this I think is the reality.

The church doesn't need the institution that it created for the early to mid 20th century. It needs an institution for the 21st century.

Anonymous said...